A Course in Miracles by Helen Schucman, The Aquarian Conspiracy by Marilyn Ferguson, and The History and Philosophy of the Metaphysical Movements in America by J. Stillson Judah - Neil T. Duddy
reviewed by Neil T. Duddy, UPDATE editor
Sociological journals often publish articles about the unique challenges modernity poses for Western social structures and, in particular, its affect on religious institutions. To articulate a sensitive response to new religious movements, they say, is one such challenge facing traditional religions. Speaking of religious plurality, sociologist Bryan Wilson says: "We’re so open now because of pluralization reaching a stage of permanent reflectiveness." That is, the culture is prone to uncritically adopt rather than perceptively observe the proliferating religious options of today. The worldviews of metaphysical movements and new age writers are siblings within that religious pluralization. Their commonalties and differences are graphically illustrated in two popular books on today’s market: A Course in Miracles by Helen Schucman (and the Christ) and The Aquarian Conspiracy by Marilyn Ferguson. Stillson Judah’s The History and Philosophy of the Metaphysical Movements in America will serve as a valuable primer for understanding both Miracles and Conspiracy.
Metaphysical movements were born in America in the mid-to-late 18OOs. Most of those movements have quietly persisted over the years, but a few, like Unity School of Christianity and First Church of Christ Scientist, emerged as powerful influences during the 1900s. For instance, in 1957 Unity received 1,600,000 letters of interest and published and internationally distributed over 23,000,000 issues of its nine periodicals. Although most metaphysical movements have not gained individual stature in American religious history, they have exercised a composite influence. Stillson Judah has collected data concerning that influence and written a well-researched, well-organized book that clearly befits its comprehensive title.
In Movements, Judah describes the personalities and cultural milieu which fostered the metaphysical movements. He notes that many people in metaphysical groups are members, even ministers, of traditional Christian churches, thus enlarging the influence of such movements beyond their immediate constituencies. As he reports, metaphysical movements hold Jesus in high regard and accept his moral teachings. Nevertheless, two distinct beliefs common to metaphysical groups separate them from the circle of biblical faith and allow their adherents to reinterpret Jesus’ work of redemption.
First, they believe that all is one: humanity is not merely the image of God but participates in a cosmic consciousness that imparts full divinity to their real inner selves. Second, God is viewed as an impersonal Universal Principle, a divine Mind, a spiritual Law that the human psyche can use to achieve health, peace of mind, and occasional prosperity. The Christological result is that Jesus is not seen as the transcendent God-Man Messiah but as the way-shower, a man who actualized his immanent divinity and demonstrated his at-one-ment with the divine Mind.
Judah comments: "As God is regarded as being all, in all, and all good, so evil, including sickness, is often considered to be unreal or the absence of good; it is an error of our minds due to the ignorance of our true nature or its laws." Elsewhere he observes: "These movements have revolted against a traditional Christian view that man is a sinner, standing under God’s judgement and in need of repentance and forgiveness, so that the Christian doctrines of grace and atonement are generally absent."
A classic metaphysical work in Judah’s terms, Miracles (with over 300,000 copies in circulation) is popular because it offers freedom from guilt, participation in the cosmic community, and sovereign power over life. In Miracles the Christ, a discarnate spirit, claims that salvation is a shift in perception to gnostic knowledge, not a change in morality or personal circumstances. According to that gnosis, death is illusion, sin unreal, and guilt a faulty creation of the mind. True freedom is ontological union with God that is achieved through cosmic consciousness. Says Miracles:
If sin is real, both you and God are not. If creation is an extension, the creator must have extended Himself, and it is impossible that what is part of Him is totally unlike the rest. If sin is real, God must be at war with Himself. He must be split....partly sane and partly insane.
Freedom from sin is freedom from judgment. Cosmic deification, claims Miracles, brings with it the freedom to heal oneself both spiritually and physically.
To the extent that everyone is divine and effectually participates in cosmic consciousness, a divine community of loving oneness is established. As the Christ says:
The body is outside you and but seems to surround you, shutting you off from others and keeping you apart from them....There is no barrier between God (other minds) and His Son (the self’s mind) nor can His Son be separated from Himself except in illusions....In these instants of release from physical restrictions, you experience much of what happens in the holy instant; the lifting of the barriers of time and space, the sudden experience of peace and joy, and above all, the lack of awareness of the body.
Neither the body nor the material world are real; only spirit is real.
Miracles offers a power derived from thought. Thought creates and thought deludes; it is miraculous in ability. Chapters 26 to 28 of Volume One explain the process whereby miraculous powers are given to other people. The gift, as it were, communicates a resolution to the problem of pain. Put simply, there is no pain. Reports the Christ: "If this were the real world, God would be cruel....love does not kill to save." Pain is a misperception, an error. Because correct perception eliminates pain, even the pain of crucifixion, Jesus did not possess perfect perception. Notes the Christ: "Such was the crucifixion of the Son of God. His faithlessness did this to Him." For the true believer, the power over pain and death is just a perception away.
Miracles is attractive to people who like to consider themselves Christian yet reject belief in true moral guilt and Creator/creature distinctions. Whereas Miracles is optimistic, hopeful, and metaphysical, it inherently denies the value, significance, and beauty of the created universe. By using a theological method that mutes the importance of physical stuff, Miracles is forced into yet another tradeoff, the loss of history. It is devoted to the benefits of a purely gnostic sacred/secular split.
While it shares similar theological tenets (for example, all is one, humanity is divine) with Miracles, Conspiracy is nonetheless interested in earthly values and in changing history. Author Marilyn Ferguson is the publisher of Brain/Mind Bulletin, a widely read newsletter that explores issues in brain research and the physics of consciousness. Published in 1980, her book has sold over 150,000 copies and has been translated into several languages. She shares with a diverse collection of new age movements the conviction that humanity is now in the process of transforming its ways of thinking and being and needs to shift from a rationalist/materialist worldview to a more intuitive/spiritual one. In Conspiracy Ferguson quotes over 250 new age advocates, then pads those citations with her own upbeat commentary. For example:
Human consciousness is crossing a threshold as mighty as the one from the middle ages to the Renaissance. People are hungering and thirsting after experience that feels true to them on the inside, after so much hard work mapping the outer spaces of the physical world....Our relationship to past symbols of authority is changing because we are awakening to ourselves as individual beings with an inner rulership....New symbols are rising....(M. C. Richards).
Ferguson believes that a spiritual transformation based on an unprecedented development of consciousness is taking place. Whereas Miracles denies the material world in favor of gnosis, Conspiracy affirms the world and considers it to be the spiritual stuf. As brain matter evolves, so will human spirituality. Ferguson quotes brain scientist Karl Pribram:
It isn’t that the world of appearances is wrong; it isn’t that there aren’t any objects out there, at one level of reality. It’s that if you penetrate through and look at the universe with a holographic system, you arrive at a different reality, one that can explain things that have hitherto remained scientifically inexplicable; paranormal phenomena....synchronicitis, the apparently meaningful coincidence of events.
Comments Ferguson: "As a way of looking at consciousness, holographic theory is closer to mystical and Eastern thought than to our ordinary perception."
Conspiracy believes in a real material universe which is itself a cosmic consciousness that everyone participates in through evolution. History, pain, and stuff are real, spiritually real. In Conspiracy’s monistic platform, humanity can have a direct religious experience with the material world. Differing from Miracle’s "ether-oriented" constituency, Conspiracy’s advocates are devoted to caring for the world. Ferguson describes many new age groups who are active in ecological affairs, new business practices, energy conservation, and refurbishing political values. Her views are communicated with fresh vitality and offer activists a manifesto of renewal through new age monism. Miracles, on the other hand, can only offer personal renewal through gnosis.In a time of pluralization and modernity, Miracles and Conspiracy are key examples of how variations on an Eastern monistic theme are able to attract people seeking spiritual truth. As Judah notes in Movements, such groups often make conscious decisions to construct alternative worldviews. Those views, however helpful in day-to-day affairs they may be, theologically seduce followers with beliefs associated with humanity’s fall from grace in the Garden of Eden--"You will be as God and possess God’s attributes." To affirm the value of humanity and God’s love for the world, Christianity supports a distinction between the now-fallen creature and the Creator. Such a distinction allows for meaningful history and the resolution of pain with humanity and divinity playing their separate parts. Though for different reasons, both Miracles and Conspiracy put the burden of meaning and relief of pain on human shoulders. History would suggest, however, that those shoulders are not broad enough.